Harnessing the winds of change: wind energy’s potential to power the Gulf region
Background on the Gulf region’s energy landscape
The Gulf region, which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman, has long been associated with the production of oil and gas. These nations have some of the greatest oil reserves in the world, which have long been a source of growth and development for their economies. But due to worries about climate change, energy security, and the need for sustainable growth, the world’s energy landscape is going through a substantial upheaval.
The growing importance of renewable energy sources
The importance of renewable energy sources is rising as the globe transitions to a low-carbon future. The Gulf nations have begun to invest extensively in renewable energy projects as a result of realising the need to diversify their energy mix and lessen their reliance on fossil fuels. Given their widespread availability and rapidly falling costs, solar and wind power in particular have emerged as the most potential renewable energy sources for the area.
The Gulf nations have established challenging renewable energy goals with the intention of producing a sizeable amount of their electricity from green sources in the upcoming years. For instance, Saudi Arabia has set a goal of producing 50% of its power from renewable sources by 2030, and the United Arab Emirates wants to produce 50% of its overall energy from clean sources.
The potential of wind energy in the Gulf region
The Gulf region’s transition to a sustainable energy future has the potential to be greatly aided by wind energy. Recent studies have shown that the area is capable of producing more than 200% of its present energy needs from wind energy alone. The region’s advantageous wind conditions, especially in coastal and offshore areas, where wind speeds are continuously high and can support massive wind energy projects, are largely to blame for this potential.
The Gulf region benefits from improvements in wind turbine technology, which have raised efficiency and lowered costs in addition to its plentiful wind resources. Because of this, wind energy is now more affordable than traditional fossil fuel-based power generation, making it a desirable option for both governments and investors.
The growth of wind energy in the Gulf area not only has enormous positive effects on the economy and ecology but also offers these nations a chance to lead the world in the production of clean energy. The Gulf nations can pioneer the way for a more sustainable and secure energy future by utilising wind power, while also lowering their greenhouse gas emissions and supporting international efforts to battle climate change.
Favourable Wind Conditions in the Gulf Region
Overview of wind patterns and resources
There are many different types of wind patterns in the Gulf region, and some places have consistently high wind speeds that are excellent for producing wind energy. For instance, wind speeds in some areas of Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait can reach up to 7–8 metres per second (m/s) at a height of 100 metres, which is thought to be ideal for large-scale wind-generating plants.
A study by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that the Gulf region has a total technical wind energy potential of about 2,200 gigawatts (GW), which is more than adequate to satisfy the region’s current energy needs. Due to the abundance and consistency of wind resources, this potential is mostly concentrated in coastal and offshore regions.
Comparison with other regions
The Gulf has a significant wind energy potential when compared to other areas. As an illustration, Europe, which is regarded as a world leader in wind energy, will have installed wind capacity of about 220 GW by 2021. The technological potential of the Gulf region, at 2,200 GW, is 10 times greater than the installed capacity in Europe today, demonstrating the region’s tremendous potential for wind energy development.
Furthermore, the Gulf’s wind resources are on par with those in other areas with flourishing wind energy businesses, such as the US and China. The capacity factors seen in these top wind energy markets are comparable to the average capacity factor of wind farms in the Gulf region, which is expected to be between 30 and 35 per cent.
The role of offshore wind farms
Unlocking the wind energy potential of the Gulf area depends heavily on offshore wind turbines. On average, offshore wind resources are more reliable and powerful than onshore ones, leading to higher capacity factors and energy output. Offshore wind farms can also be constructed at larger scales, resulting in more cost-effective and efficient power generation.
The Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman’s shallow seas are perfect for the construction of offshore wind farms. The Gulf region has an estimated 1,000 GW of offshore wind energy potential, which could considerably help the region meet its renewable energy goals.
The potential of offshore wind energy has already been investigated by several Gulf nations. For instance, the United Arab Emirates is conducting feasibility studies for offshore wind projects, and as part of its ambitious renewable energy programme, Saudi Arabia has declared plans to build its first offshore wind farm.
The Gulf region offers a special chance for the world to become a leader in the production of wind energy because of its excellent wind conditions, improvements in wind turbine technology, and the potential of offshore wind farms. By making use of these resources, the Gulf nations can diversify their energy mix, lessen their dependency on fossil fuels, and support international efforts to battle climate change.
Advancements in wind turbine technology
Evolution of wind turbine designs
The efficiency and power production of wind turbines have grown dramatically during the past few decades due to significant design evolution. In comparison to earlier models, modern wind turbines are substantially larger, with rotor diameters surpassing 150 metres and hub heights of at least 100 metres. These larger turbines are more suitable for a wider range of locations since they can harness more wind energy and produce power at lower wind speeds.
Manufacturers of wind turbines in the Gulf region have created turbines that are especially suited to the region’s particular climatic circumstances, such as high temperatures and dust storms. The region’s potential for wind energy growth is further increased by the fact that these specialised turbines are more durable and can function effectively in difficult climates.
Efficiency improvements and cost reductions
Significant gains in efficiency and cost reductions have resulted from technological developments in wind turbine design and production. Wind energy is one of the most economically viable types of electricity generation, according to IRENA, since the global weighted average levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for onshore wind projects dropped by almost 70% between 2010 and 2020.
The LCOE for wind energy projects in the Gulf region is predicted to range between $0.03 and $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), which is competitive with the cost of electricity produced from natural gas in the area. Due to its low cost, wind energy has become a popular choice among investors and governments, resulting in a rise in funding for wind-generating projects.
Integration with energy storage systems
The intermittent nature of wind energy, which can experience day-to-day and seasonal variations in wind speed, is one of its difficulties. In order to solve this problem, energy storage solutions, including batteries or pumped hydro storage, are increasingly being incorporated into wind energy projects in the Gulf region. In order to provide a steady and dependable supply of electricity, these storage devices can store surplus electricity produced during high wind speeds and release it back into the grid during periods of low wind speeds.
A greater percentage of renewable energy sources may now be used in the region’s energy mix thanks to the integration of wind energy with energy storage devices, which also improves grid resilience. The integration of wind energy with energy storage is anticipated to be essential in the Gulf region’s transition to a sustainable energy future as energy storage technologies continue to progress and their costs fall.
Economic and environmental benefits of wind energy
Job creation and economic growth
Numerous job opportunities and economic growth could be sparked by the development of wind energy plants in the Gulf region. In 2020, the world’s wind energy business employed about 1.2 million people, and as more nations invest in wind energy, this figure is anticipated to rise.
The growth of the wind energy industry in the Gulf region has the potential to bring about employment opportunities in a number of industries, including manufacturing, construction, operations, and maintenance. Localising the wind energy supply chain can support the region’s efforts to diversify its economy and create more jobs. For instance, the Dumat Al Jandal wind farm in Saudi Arabia, the biggest in the area, is anticipated to provide over 1,000 jobs both during construction and operation.
Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
With no operational greenhouse gas emissions, wind energy is a sustainable and clean source of electricity. The Gulf nations may dramatically lower their carbon footprint and aid in the global fight against climate change by boosting the proportion of wind energy in their energy mix.
If the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations meet their renewable energy targets, they might reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by up to 136 million tonnes annually by 2030, according to a report by the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre. This decrease in emissions is the same as getting rid of about 30 million vehicles from the road.
Energy security and independence
By lowering its dependency on fossil fuels, notably natural gas, for the production of electricity, the Gulf area can increase its energy security and independence by investing in wind energy. The development of local renewable energy sources, including wind power, can assist in meeting the region’s growing domestic energy demand without increasing its reliance on imported fuels.
Additionally, by diversifying its energy sources, the region can become more resilient to changes in the world’s energy markets, which lowers the chance of supply disruptions and price volatility. The Gulf area can guarantee a steady and secure supply of power for its expanding economy and population while also protecting its priceless fossil fuel resources for future generations by utilising its rich wind resources.Challenges and Opportunities for the Gulf Region
Infrastructure and grid integration
The requirement for suitable infrastructure and grid connectivity is one of the major obstacles to the development of wind energy projects in the Gulf region. In order to accommodate the fluctuating and distributed nature of wind energy, the region’s current electricity networks, which were primarily built for centralised, fossil fuel-based power generation, may need to be upgraded.
Expenditures on grid modernization, such as the creation of smart grids and the extension of transmission lines, can aid in the facilitation of the integration of wind energy into the region’s power networks. In addition, regional interconnections and power-sharing agreements can improve grid stability and make it possible for the Gulf nations to use renewable energy sources effectively.
Financing and investment
For wind energy projects, obtaining investment and securing financing can be difficult, especially in the beginning. However, investors are now more interested in the sector due to the falling costs of wind energy and the rising competitiveness of the industry.
Through the provision of financial incentives like tax breaks, grants, and low-interest loans, governments in the Gulf area can play a significant role in promoting investment in wind energy projects. Additionally, creative financing techniques like green bonds and public-private partnerships can assist in raising the funds required for the construction of wind energy infrastructure.
Policy and regulatory frameworks
The development of favourable legislative and regulatory frameworks is necessary for the growth of wind energy in the Gulf area. A number of legislative initiatives, including feed-in tariffs, auctions, and net metering programmes, have already been put in place by governments throughout the region to support renewable energy.
To make the environment more favourable for wind energy growth and investment, however, further work is required. This entails expediting the permission process, making sure that regulations are transparent and predictable, and encouraging regional collaboration to harmonise standards and exchange best practises.
Public perception and social acceptance
In some places, it can be difficult to change how people feel about wind energy projects and gain societal acceptance. This is especially true if people are worried about how they can affect the local economy, the environment, or local species and landscapes. Governments and project developers must interact with local communities and stakeholders at every stage of planning and development if they are to address these issues.
Building trust and promoting societal acceptance can be facilitated through open communication, public participation, and the dissemination of factual information regarding the advantages and potential negative effects of wind energy projects. Public support for these projects can be further increased by including local communities in the decision-making process and making sure they benefit from wind energy development in terms of job creation and revenue sharing.
The Gulf region can unleash its enormous potential for sustainable energy development and become a global leader in the shift to a low-carbon future by solving these issues and taking advantage of the opportunities given by wind energy.
Case studies: successful wind energy projects in the Gulf region
The Dumat Al Jandal wind farm in Saudi Arabia
The largest wind energy project in the Gulf region is the Dumat Al Jandal wind farm, which is situated in Saudi Arabia’s Al Jouf region. The project, which has a 400 megawatt (MW) capacity, would provide enough electricity to power up to 70,000 Saudi households and reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by about 988,000 tonnes.
Through a competitive tendering process, the project was chosen with a historically low cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of $0.0213. The Dumat Al Jandal wind farm is a shining example of how affordable wind energy is in the area and shows how the Gulf region has the ability to generate wind energy on a massive scale.
The Dhofar wind farm in Oman
The Dhofar Wind Farm is Oman’s first utility-scale wind energy project, and it is situated in the country’s southernmost region. With a 50 MW capacity, the project should be able to power about 16,000 houses while lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 110,000 tonnes annually.
The Dhofar Wind Farm is an important turning point for Oman’s renewable energy industry and exemplifies the nation’s dedication to diversifying its energy mix and lowering its reliance on fossil fuels.
The Shagaya renewable energy park in Kuwait
A 10 MW wind energy component is part of the multi-technology Shagaya Renewable Energy Park, which is situated in Kuwait’s western region. Five wind turbines make up the wind farm, which is a component of Kuwait’s ambitions to produce 15% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
The Shagaya Renewable Energy Park shows how wind energy may be combined with other renewable technologies, such as solar and concentrated solar power, to produce a varied and sustainable energy mix in the Gulf.
Implications for ASEAN/ASIA’s renewable energy and sustainability ambition
The rapid growth of wind energy in the Gulf region may benefit ASEAN or Asia’s aspirations for sustainable energy. Due to its geographical location and temperature, the Gulf region offers huge potential for wind generation. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the Gulf region has the capacity to produce up to 510 gigawatts of wind energy annually. Exports of renewable energy have huge potential because they can produce twice as much electricity as the Gulf region uses. Increasing the proportion of renewable energy in their energy mix and decreasing their reliance on fossil fuels, can assist ASEAN and Asia in meeting their sustainable energy ambitions.
Being a clean and renewable energy source that generates electricity without consuming any fuel or hurting the environment is one of the major benefits of wind power. This can lessen the negative effects of climate change and help ASEAN and Asia lower their carbon footprints. Additionally, the quick growth of wind energy can lessen CO2 emissions, limit global warming, and stop biodiversity loss.
The ability to be cost-competitive with fossil fuels is another benefit of wind power, and during the past ten years, the price of wind energy has significantly decreased. With minimal financial outlay, this can assist ASEAN and Asia in achieving their goals for sustainable energy. In addition, it is anticipated that the wind sector will experience a strong comeback in 2023, expanding quickly to install 1 terawatt, or 1,000 gigawatts, of wind energy worldwide. With the wind sector expanding, the Gulf region may have the chance to export wind energy to Asia and ASEAN, helping to create a regional market for renewable energy.
The enormous potential for wind energy to drastically alter the region’s energy environment is shown by the fact that wind energy projects in the Gulf region, such as the Dumat Al Jandal Wind Farm in Saudi Arabia, the Dhofar Wind Farm in Oman, and the Shagaya Renewable Energy Park in Kuwait, are being implemented successfully. The Gulf region can dramatically lessen its reliance on fossil fuels, diversify its energy supply, and support international efforts to mitigate climate change by utilising its enormous wind resources.
Continued innovation and investment are necessary to fully utilise wind energy’s promise in the Gulf area. Research and development to advance wind turbine technology and lower costs are also included in this, along with investments in infrastructure and grid integration. To mobilise the required funds and propel the expansion of the wind energy sector in the region, governments, business stakeholders, and international organisations must collaborate.
For the Gulf region to successfully expand wind energy, regional cooperation and knowledge sharing are essential. The Gulf nations can speed up the implementation of wind energy projects by cooperating and exchanging best practises in order to address shared obstacles, including infrastructure construction, funding, and public acceptance. By fostering innovation and building capacity in the wind energy industry, collaborative activities, such as the creation of regional renewable energy centres and joint research initiatives, can assist the Gulf region's transition to a more sustainable and secure energy future.
The rapid growth of wind energy in the Gulf region may benefit ASEAN or Asia’s aspirations for sustainable energy. The carbon footprint of the area can be decreased by using wind power, which can offer a clean and affordable source of electricity. The emergence of a local market for renewable energy may also be aided by the expansion of the wind sector.
This is also published on the author's blog. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
About the author
Alex Hong has over 20 years of experience in executive and tertiary education. He has led cross-tertiary teams in development, curation, faculty/programme management, and business development in education and eLearning projects. He is actively involved in Climate/Biodiversity/ESG-related business matchmaking and conferences regionally. Alex is LinkedIn’s Top Voices (Green) in Singapore 2022 and represents the Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC) as the Ambassador of Southeast Asia. He is also part of the Youth Networking Business Committee of Asia (YNBC) and contributes to his community by volunteering as a mentor for a Singapore-based start-up incubator.